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Missing the message

September 17, 2006
From the Toronto Sun
Just over a week ago, on Sept. 8, Pope  Benedict XVI addressed the Catholic Bishops of Ontario at the Vatican. Such  meetings take place every five years and offer the opportunity to every bishop  to meet the people who work in the central government of the Church - and for  "the Vatican" to meet the pastors and shepherds of the Catholic Church spread  throughout the world.
The highlight of the visit is a private meeting of every  bishop with the Holy Father, as well as a Papal address to the group.
Prior to travelling to Rome for such visits, the bishops are  required to submit, months in advance, a detailed analysis of the state of the  Church in their area of the world. Vatican authorities carefully read the  reports and offer to the Pope their reflections, concerns and particular  emphases that the Pope might then raise in discussions with the bishops.
The Pope then prepares his address to the bishops, based in  great part on the contents of the reports that have been submitted by them.  Far from being a papal imposition or reprimand, then, this address is more an  affirmation of what the bishops, themselves, have reported. The Pope is free  to offer his own suggestions and comments.
Distorted media reports and inflammatory headlines last  weekend portrayed the Pope's meeting with the Ontario Bishops as: "Pope  chastises Canadian Bishops;" "Pope blasts Canada;" "Pope hits out at Canadian  laws;" "Papal tongue lashing," etc., etc. The contents of many articles and  reports were even worse than the sensational headlines.
For hours afterward, we at Salt and Light Catholic Television  Network were inundated with requests for "sound bite" reactions to the "Papal  blasting of Canada" - even though the bulk of the media stories had already  been written!
It seemed obvious to me that few of the reporters had read the  full text that the Pope delivered - even though it was available on the  Vatican website, vatican.va.
Instead, they based their articles and stories on what  supposedly took place in the "firestorm" of the papal encounter at Castel  Gandolfo, the Pope's summer villa outside of Rome. The sad reality was that  most media people - and hence their readers and viewers - didn't look closely  at Benedict's unambiguous and powerful message to Canada.
Nor did the Ontario Conference of Bishops come out with a  press release or commentary as to the important exchange that took place in  Rome last Friday morning. They were simply not prepared for such media  interest in the Ad Limina visit, both in Rome and here in Canada. Staff people  and some of the bishops themselves had not foreseen the possibility of such  misunderstanding of the Pope's message. This is a good example of how we must  be very proactive in the Church and see such moments as the Ad Limina visit as  a very important teaching moment.
The media response to the Pope's address was a hodge-podge of  fiery words, invective, misinformation and distortion in numerous blogs,  newspaper articles, media reports.
In the interest of setting the record straight, let us try to  understand what actually took place and was said:
While Benedict praised Canada for its generous commitment to  justice and peace, he said "the split between the Gospel and culture, with the  exclusion of God from the public sphere" has severed basic human values from  their moral roots.
He lamented what he called the false sense of freedom and  tolerance in Canadian culture that has led to "disturbing" trends, such as a  law allowing same-sex marriage. "In the name of 'tolerance,' your country has  had to endure the folly of the redefinition of 'spouse,'" he said.
The Pope also criticized the continued legality of abortion,  saying: "In the name of 'freedom of choice' (Canada) is confronted with the  daily destruction of unborn children."
He urged the bishops and the Catholic community to continue to  be a strong, united and vocal presence in public and political debate. And he  cautioned the bishops to stick to "the truth of human nature" and not succumb  to the push and pull of "social trends and spurious demands of opinion polls."
The Pope also assured the bishops that one's Christian faith  "brings together reason and culture," and reminded them that the church's  mission is "to make God visible in the human face of Jesus." Any watering down  of the Gospel message will only weaken Christian identity and debilitate "the  church's contribution to the regeneration of society," he said.
One of the key themes of Benedict's pontificate so far has  been moral relativism. Relativism, which abandons a sense of there being one  eternal truth, not only snuffs out "the sublime goals of life," but it results  in "lowering the standards of excellence, a timidity before the category of  the good, and a relentless but senseless pursuit of novelty parading as the  realization of freedom."
Education, even Catholic education, needs to fight the tide of  relativism and uphold the love of truth, he said. Far from chastising Catholic  teachers, Benedict acknowledged the great work of Catholic teachers throughout  this province.
Over the past week, I have heard from many Catholics and  others who have nothing to do with the Catholic church. Both groups said  Benedict's stern words serve as warnings not only to Canadian Catholics, but  to the people of Canada.
The Pope's words contain many truths that transcend religious  divisions - truths about life, love, integrity, hope, God and the pursuit of  truth itself.
Our Canadian reality is based on a transcendent vision of life  based on Christian revelation that has made us a free, democratic and caring  society, recognized throughout the world as a champion of human rights and  human dignity. We will only continue to offer this treasure to humanity and  history if we preserve what is deep and good and valid in our own heritage.
The first great gift we must preserve is human life itself.  The other is the marriage of man and woman, from whom come future generations.  We must preserve this gift if we Canadians wish to make further significant  contributions to humanity and history.
It was Pope John Paul II who warned that unless families  became "protagonists" of "family politics" and take responsibility "for  transforming society," they would become the "first victims."
It is no wonder that Benedict should be concerned about Canada  at this moment in our history. It was that honest, papal, pastoral concern  that was communicated two Fridays ago at Castel Gandolfo in Rome - hardly a  screaming match, as was portrayed in the media.
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